"You always won, everytime you placed a bet/ You're still damn good, no one's gotten to you yet/ Everytime they were sure they had you caught/ You were quicker than they thought/ You'd just turn your back and walk/ You always said, the cards would never do you wrong/ The trick you said was never piay the game too long/ A gambler's share, the only risk that you would take/ The only loss you could forsake/ The only bluff you couldn't fake/ And you're still the same...."
Our second apartment in Richmond was a third-floor walk-up with a large parlor room with working fireplace, living room, bedroom with bath off of it, and a kitchen with a pantry kind of area where the sink was with a long shelf over it. The building was two blocks away from the Museum of Fine Arts and within walking distance of several other interesting area landmarks, too. During the first winter I decided to start a home brewery and, after consulting some texts, made various kinds of wine, cordials, beers, and mead, placing all the bottles on the long shelf over the sink. One evening, as I was washing dishes, loud popping noises began and I was soon surrounded by broken glass and covered with various alcoholic beverages dripping over and down from my head. You are supposed to loosen the tops and corks regularly as the beverages ferment and content expands. Right before moving, our very pregnant cat was playing on the front balcony and lost her balance, falling three stories to the street. We ran down the stairs thinking surely she was hurt, or at least had miscarried, but by the time we arrived she was sitting calmly under a tree licking her fur and purring contentedly. The kittens were born in good health a few weeks later.
-- You're Still The Same by Bob Seger
I'd visited the Fan District, an old neighborhood that encompasses Virginia Commonwealth University and many historic buildings and homes, in the late 60s with Ronnie Taylor and some other friends. He'd sat cross-legged on the grass in a park and played mostly folk tunes and some blues for people who gathered to listen and enjoy it all on a pleasant day. A few years later, Bob and I moved to the outskirts of it into a long, narrow, second-floor walk-up apartment vacated by our friends Charlie, working on a masters degree in Sociology, and wife Carole when they bought a home in the suburbs and left their old furniture behind for us also. The building itself had been a single home previously and converted. The exterior was a dull purple color and it faced a gated small park. Amenities and entertainments were within easy walking distance. Although Bob had some difficulty finding employment, Charlie recommended and referred me to a vacancy as secretary to the Dean of the Sociology Department and I began working full-time almost immediately. He stopped by at lunch sometimes to show me nearby restaurants and checked in otherwise for knowing not just me well but also several of the professors. My boss taught most notedly a class on sexuality that was popular and his favorite subject. Although elected to his position by the other professors, his tenure as Dean soon became a source of unhappy discussion and dissension amongst the staff, so the atmosphere was tremulous and discordant. Our friend, Ed Knipe from ETSU, was part of the group in revolt and eventually the Dean put me on a year's leave of absence without pay, most likely for apparent sympathy with his detractors.
Shortly thereafter, I began working at the Virginia Employment Commission, but my favorite job for its hours anyway was with the evening News-Leader in an era when this country's urban areas had frequently two newspapers daily from the same source to keep citizens abreast of events and happenings. Mornings were my own to sleep and play in our second apartment, noontime hours for browsing, shopping and gallery hopping, and work from 2 to 10 p.m. each weekday. The job itself involved coding text for the computerized printers and was reasonably interesting for awhile. Although the managers suggested I might want to work in layout design instead, that was around the time that our friend Mike Crowe was found dead in his city apartment of a heroin overdose, and I needed some time by myself. Circuitously, I ended up eventually in the offices of the Criminal Division of the Attorney General's Office, eating lunch sometimes with other women working there on the lawn surrounding the General Assembly's building and near enough Edgar Allan Poe's house to visit there also occasionally along with the White House of the Confederacy. As ever, lunch breaks tended most often to be about shopping, either in one of the two large department stores or the smaller and sometimes ethnic ones on side streets.
In those days it was still considered safe generally and was legal to hitchhike, which I did sometimes to or from work at different offices, really just for the fun of it and people I might meet and talk with along the way. The pickup that stands out most in my memory was a van with a few young casually-dressed men in the spaciously-clear back that was colorfully accoutered with good music playing on speakers, and I believe they may have been traveling through there from California. The ride itself was reminiscent most particularly of the days Bob and I had hitchhiked down Pacific Highway to Los Angeles and Laguna Beach courtesy of cordial strangers from a cheerfully enthusiastic older woman who declared her love and admiration for "hippies," as being the hope of the coming generations, to another large van that took us into the City of the Angels for a Hollywood tour and viewing of the volcanically stupendous "Krakatoa, East of Java." Other times I walked or used public transportation, buses that ran conveniently and comfortably throughout the city. Always entranced with the possibilities of differing hair appointments, I went through about a year of buying and wearing wigs daily of various colors and lengths: red, blonde and black; short, medium and long; wavy, curly and very curly; nearly all bouffant. Following that, I pulled my hair very severely back completely from my face into a tight knot on the top, which exuded a kind of oriental ambiance, especially if accompanied by the right clothing and jewelry. On first moving there, it had simply hung freely in natural waves nearly to my waist but shortened off and on while I was living there. While in the Attorney General's office, I eschewed on principle shaving of any kind anywhere so tended to choose bell-bottom pantsuits with short to long sleeves in the interest of not disturbing anybody's concept of appropriate personal behaviors.
The congenial marketing during that era of small, flat, rectangular electric heating pads with removable and washable flannel covers and "PM" versions of over-the-counter analgesics introduced a very welcome respite in the monthly ritual of mentrual bloating, belly and hip pain, nausea and headaches previously alleviated, or at least soothed, by all-nighters in a warm bath and presented finally an ease of daily work after reasonable rest. Although I usually took the first day off anyway as a "sick day" to concentrate on symptom relief, the difference generally was unexpectedly welcome and near-miraculous. Nothing quite beats just a simple good night's sleep! Although now this may be called dysmenorrhea, at that time it was just fairly common and not that remarkable as we young women shared our favorite recipes for finding some comfort amongst old home remedies and newly introduced products in sharing common and unusual complaints not mentioned or acknowledged in public generally.
Immediately after receiving her considerable inheritance in money and materiel, mother became enamored of Fred Astaire Dance Studio lessons and competitions to which she devoted intense time, resources, and attention. Expensive, handmade costumes with theatrical makeup and boutique hairstyles were involved along with many posed and professional photography sessions to document performance attire and appearance. She and my stepfather also joined two three-week first-class European tours, one of which included return on the famed and refurbished Queen Elizabeth cruise ship and dinner at the Captain's table. She loved formal photos and her second husband Dino also provided a regular record through friends in the profession of her elan in portraiture as a blonde, a hair coloring she converted to from natural brunette in her late 40s. For the last few decades of her life she wore a short, styled blonde wig from a collection she kept available, although her own hair was a straight, thick, waist-length salt-and-pepper, which I encouraged her to share publicly, but she wasn't interested in doing that. Very few people ever saw it until her pre-death hospitalizations at which time it had thinned considerably.
Always a loving keeper of formidible wardrobes from good to designer shops, she joked off and on about their existence in multiple sizes from 10 to 16, and larger in her latter decades as her weight fluctuated from diets and exercise to over-enjoyment of good foods and drinks. In the early 70s during a month-long Florida visit, I devoted my attentions to creating innovative concoctions of liquours, liquors, ice creams and sherbets with her blender, most of which we drank on the balcony of her two-bedroom bachelorette apartment overlooking the pool and Intracoastal Waterway with its ships from smaller yachts to sail and motor boats and folks enjoying the sun, tropical weather and lushly colorful and shaped vegetation. We also browsed through upscale designer malls and diner in waterside restaurants with enticing views and interior appointments.
A one-time student of interior design, mother's living quarters became comfortably cheery to glitteringly luxurious in that climate. The later oceanside condo was redone with reflective silver wallpaper enhanced by pastel floral depictions of differing dimensions and outline in most of the rooms. Its balcony overlooked yet another pool in an area replete with them and a private beach with the Atlantic roaring in and retreating in slides of usually transparent water whose fingers raked the sands in parting each time. In addition to monumental cargo ships usually on the horizon, larger yachts and sailboats passed by bright turquoise and purple men-o-war washed up on the shores of shells, broken and not, and gaily colored lounge chair with umbrellas as well as thatch-roofed cabanas.
In addition to many fancy eateries, there were the long fishing piers stretching out high and long into the ocean with funky, small restaurants serving fresh seafood and drinks informally. The atmosphere ranged from extravagant and elite Yacht Club buffets through Hawaiian luau decor and exotic fare to "early bird" specials in serviceably accoutered outlets targeting retirees and smoke-filled nightspots with raucous bars and various eclectica of live performances. There were tour excursions through The Everglades and down The Intracoastal in a glass-bottomed boat, a visit to a very tourist-y native american village and its entertainers, and sunbathing everywhere. Ocean fish and mollusks in various gourmet presentations and exotice cocktails were standard fare, along with evening dresses of elegant design and, of course, jewelry and very high heels. And bikinis. Tanning level and evenness was a prime concern, along with couture, all of which were the subjects of numerous conversations in planning and enactment. The marine with some truly extraordinary yachts complete with gold faucets, mahogany detailing and sterling silver services offered a glimpse into the waterworlds of some, including those who traversed the Intracoastal regularly as their occupation and entertainment. A round, top-floor revolving restaurant with glass windows all around provided a view of that as well as ocean-faring vessels. The public dock for humongous commercial ships was busy, tumultuous and awesome.
If we tired of the generally leisurely amenities of the Fort Lauderdale-Pompano area, Miami and Miami Beach with their huge hotels and fancy stores, or whispering wastes and stretches of The Keys dotted with old and new settlements were nearby. When my grandparents had first begun visiting South Florida, those two were their destinations as Fort Lauderdale and its environs didn't exist as a tourist and retirement mecca at all, nor were its waterfronts in any way developed. Once mother worked briefly as a realtor selling timeshares at an interestingly built old Spanish-style Miami hotel converted into apartments. Mother was also a good, but less trained, swimmer and we enjoyed that kind of exercise everywhere as well as walking to explore side street homes and commercial offerings along Highway A1A and other waterside sites. At 20 years of age, push-up style bra tops were the much-discussed rage, as cleavage was very important. Over the years, though, more natural styles generally prevailed in clothing, and my hair once bouffant and highly teased, shaped, and sprayed to crusty stiffness became nearly waist-length in wavy curls which shortened slowly through generally professional cutting and styling over ensuing years until it became its present shoulder length permed to tight curls.
As her financial resources dwindled, mother `abandoned the extraordinary expense of professional ballroom dancing lessons and competition travel which had taken her from mid-town Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria where I watched her perform in a deep V-necked white-sequined dress with layers of mesh petticoats underneath to Mexico with one of her two best friends, a widow originally from Austria still with a slight accent and a comfortable lakeside home some miles inland from the Atlantic. Mother found buyers for the lavish assemblage of costumes but kept her extensive collection of large rhinestone jewelry to her death in Page County, Virginia when my stepsister gather it together for sale in Florida consignment shops, also promising to give the dozens of short blonde wigs to a charity there providing them free for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
In 1971, Bob and I drove to Arlington, stayed with my mother-in-law, and took public transportation to the Washington D. C. Mall to join 500,000 or so other of our closest friends in vocally opposing the Vietnam War. There, we mingled with colorfully dressed and divergent crowds, waded and danced in the Reflecting Pool, and listened to bands and speeches. On the way back, he realized with dismay that he'd lost his wallet. A week or so after arriving back in Richmond, and cancelling his credit cards, he received a package from the metro area with a note saying that the writer had found the enclosed wallet, money and cards intact, in the Reflecting Pool. In 1976, following the same itinerary, we joined a huge crowd on the Mall to celebrate the Nation's Bicentennial, the 200th birthday of the Declaration of Independence, with crafts, orchestra, choirs, bands, speeches, and extravagantly long-lasting, colorfully varied and variously explosive fireworks high in the night sky and along the grass. Another year, we strolled around with milling throngs from all over through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's multi-cultural, international booths set up all over the Mall, listening to music, watching dancers and singers and craftspeople work.
Ameasure of social and psychological discordance in "conservative" Richmond with its smattering of "blue nose" post-Confederate families like the newspaper-tycoon and governmentally-active Byrds could be taken any weekend evening in a drive down Monument Avenue with its grassy median esplanade of Civil War soldier statues --and now,jarringly and contraversially, one subsequently- disgraced African-American sports figure -- arrayed before stately old shuttered mansions to one of America's most outstanding traditional strip joints rivaling the finest of New Orleans in any era. Gypsy Rose would have been comfortable on its elegant walkway supended above a horseshoe-shaped bar while rows of completely naked dancers appeared in lighted coves from the back wall. Recorded music filled the hall of dining tables by the long stand-up bar to one side. Later,down past again the soldier memorials and grand curtained residences agon toward and onto historic Main and Broad Streets to a large upscale, two-tiered GLBT dance lounge with live bands announced by a plain unnumbered black door to the side street where a discerning concierge approved or not the look and couture of any who might choose to enter. One might catch an early morning film showing at the 24-hour movie theatre with its darkened interior of unsavory men in overcoats that specialized in x-rated at least hard-core pornography films, some of them legendary and international like "Deep Throat," nestled near the VCU campus buildings in the Fan District.
Around the same time, my mother sold her share in one trust fund to Manhattan speculators, moved to Florida, and divorced her second husband. The only time I recall her being truly happy and satisfied -- and therefore easy fun and comfortable to be around -- was while she lived alone there in her two-bedroom, second-floor apartment overlooking the pool and Intracoastal Waterway with its usually small yachts and sailboats amidst the lush blooming tropics of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her lifestyle wasn't really lavish then, but cheerful, homey and laid-back, and all her time was her own to decide on its dispensation, which involved a fair amount of shopping, dining out, and sunbathing along with stylishly relaxed clothing, makeup, jewelry and hairdos. And fanciful entertainments and cocktails. That was probably her dream-come-true -- until the money ran out, inevitably, and she settled on a third husband, a vacancy and loss she never mentioned or seemed in the least to miss in the interim.
After some looking with a realtor for what was possible within our price range, we found and bought, with assistance from my husband's access to benefits under the expanded G.I. Bill which had also funded his college education, the first of three houses. It was two blocks south of the James River in an old neighborhood of established trees and bushes and diverse architecture. Although we were too busy to use it often, a grassy park stretched from the road to riverbank and people fished from it. After a few years, the "kepone scandal" caused mass fish kills and no one was allowed to be in the water at all. Up until then, I had assumed what seemed logical to me: that no substance could be discharged into the rivers without specific permission from state authorities. On investigation, it turned out the reverse was true: anything could be dumped into the rivers unless it was expressly forbidden by legislation. That meant, in effect, that in a rapidly evolving world of manmade chemicals and effluents, all the new ones with unknown consequence could be released into the biosphere until prohibited due to catastrophes like the kepone incident. The river was contaminated for the remaining years of our residence, with fishermen and businesses dependent upon them and the river dislocated and/or dissolved. The legislative approach to river discharges, however, despite individual and organizational efforts to the contrary and with intense corporate lobbying for the status quo, has remained the same: any substance may be released into public waters unless and until specifically disallowed.
My two favorite houses for beauty were also the least practical. The home in Richmond was one of those. Yellow-painted stucco on the outside with white trim and a gray slate roof, it has a generously-sized screened-in porch running the length of it in front, a perfect place to watch and talk with neighbors and their children. I hung a heavy white-rope hammock we'd bought from a local commune there and we also had comfortable chairs and convenient tables inside it. In any good weather at all, that's where we spent our evenings and free weekend hours. The back has a two-tiered porch that really needed to be rebuilt although we never got around to doing that and seldom used either level. Instead, we kind of accidentally ended up scraping and steaming off layers and layers of painted wallpaper until reaching original plaster in the high-ceilinged eight rooms of that older house, plus the upstairs bath with its antique clawfoot tub and the large butler's pantry between kitchen and formal dining room. On one living room wall exposed we found the year "1901" written in black. A professional plasterer fixed cracks and we had the middle of the house jacked up to rectify a structural design deficiency that had caused the center of it to sink and list somewhat.
The two-story stairs to second-floor bedrooms had carved walnut banisters covered also in layers of paint that I removed with a lot of scraping and thick toxic pastes before revarnishing to a deep glow. All of the windows were deep and proportionately narrow, a non-standard size that made storm-windows too expensive for our budget, but the house was heated with long, low hot water radiators built in under each window that needed pans of water underneath them to keep moisture in the rooms and which we painted also. The front windows have an interesting design at their tops, and we painted everything antique white from what had been thickly bright pinks, oranges, turquoise, greens and blues in contiguous rooms, combinations that jarred any artistic sensibility an owner or visitor might have naturally or acquired. The kitchen was updated with good new cabinets and modern appliances. The stove stood in front of an old chimney with a plate-covered hole where in earlier days a woodstove had heated it and offered cooking possibilities also. The old oil furnace in the unfinished basement needed to be replaced and we also put a washer and dryer down there, along with minimal other storage needs. In back, the flat yard was bordered by slightly raised beds I used for vegetable gardens. Against the back fence, very old yellow rose bushes swayed and bent from their own weight. A smallish garden shed with an even smaller porch held outdoor implements. One neighbor had an older gardenia bush and its lush scent drifted into our back yard with exotic sensuality, mingled with thickly old and sturdy pecan trees whose fruits enticed squirrels and sometimes fell on our heads. A narrow unpaved alley joined our lots with those of neighbors whose faced the street parallel to ours.
We chose our furniture from an old and very large two-story used goods store on Main Street in downtown Richmond. A neighbor who collected and occasionally sold antiques in annual backyard sales lent us a beautiful old breakfront with curved glass doors for the dining room and my family collection of china and crystal. The dining room set was a bargain treasure that included a large rectagular table with extra leaves for holiday meals, a long low armoir, another china closet, and six or eight chairs. We used it most particularly for family get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving when Bob's mother would travel with her boyfriend from Arlington and my mother and stepfather would join us from Florida. With a very extensive serving set of china from my in-laws, we served formal meals complete with all the traditional fixings and delicacies, including even the Yorkshire Pudding my mother-in-law had introduced me to and taught me how to bake with the drippings from roast beef on special occasions. Her family was originally from England and that's an ethnic favorite there. For fuel efficiency, we bought a green Saab, although I used public transportation, buses, with a healthful walk to and from the house to the main street a few blocks south, sometimes in the company of variously sized and domesticated neighborhood dogs.
With both Bob and my third husband, we gave occasional "keg parties" that usually involved also outdoor grilling of the expected and acceptable hamburgers and hotdogs, chips and dip, for neighbors and family. For awhile in Richmond, cheese fondues were popular and it was important to have a set of one's own and learn all the variations of German and Swiss wines that might be combined with interesting, imported cheeses to melt over the little flame to be dipped out by chunks and slices of thick French or Italian breads tastefully displayed on a closeby and appropriately decorated plate. A wine rack was also required for social acceptance in the Richmond 'burbs and I filled ours with ever-replenished assortments of imports and domestics in our discovering which ones we best enjoyed, rigorously applying whites to fish and chicken meals and reds to beef, lamb and pork. Sparkling ones were, as ever, for special occasions, holidays and commemorations. Our kitchen sink looked out over back yards and was a pleasant place for preparations and even dishwashing. A few times, though, I found with a cringe and start very large cockroaches trying to crawl up and out from the drain there. At each event, we called an exterminator and had the foundation sprayed all around which was completely effective in getting rid of them for a year at least. In Florida, there had been palmetto bugs, which are even bigger than our standard roach. In Virginia, there were the smaller, nearly transparent ones that multiply so rapidly and are frequently brought in on grocery bags, requiring that indoor cabinets be emptied and sprayed.
Aside from an excellent and comfortable, lively Italian restaurant toward the outskirts of Richmond, our usual weekend haunt was the Fan District and one particular block or two with a movie theatre that showed art films from Fellini to soft-core porn native and imported. Across the street was an outstanding Bavarian restaurant housed on the second floor of an historic home, and other interesting dining possibilities were also closeby within easy and pleasant walking distance. In downtown Richmond, there was a real English Pub that sold British beers and malts and ales along with traditional foods like kidney pie, which was absolutely delicious. There was also a kosher deli featuring liver and onions, liptauer cheese, and sandwiches piled high. For more elegant occasions, we frequented the dining areas of downtown's older hotels, including one whose spiral staircase was featured in "Gone With The Wind." For funkier times, we got ourselves into a few private clubs that hid unmarked on sidestreets where unusual bands played to unusually accourtered customers who sat at tables, visited with each other, and moved under the dim lights over spacious parqued dance floors. Most of these entertainments were indulged as simply a couple used to conversing with each other on a wide variety of topics of mutual interest, from politics to philosophy to music to the more mundane concerns of everyday life and relationship, and exploring new scenes and experiences together, but off and on we had company, most particularly from our general neighborhood and also from Bob's co-workers at Philip Morris.
When Governor Brown of California began a protest campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, my second husband and I attended the Richmond VA caucus as supporters. He was chosen as a Brown delegate to the statewide convention and, with our (literally) brown buttons affixed, we drove to Norfolk's Omni Hotel on the Atlantic beach to spend a few nights, listened to various nominating speeches, attended meals and meetings, and cast his lone vote for Governor Brown.
Learning to be comfortable unaccompanied and have fun in a somewhat formal crowd began in Richmond where Bob and I began attending large parties, related to business and neighborhood generally. As the tallest and most dashingly handsome, dark-haired and mustachioed man in the room, it was his apparent social duty to "mingle," flirtingly with the women and as an in-charge and athletic bon homie jokester with the men. To begin with this, left me standing withered on a spot somewhere but I adopted strategies quickly to overcome the generally unspoken rule at the time for women of "not speaking (or moving much) until spoken to." Later, separate classes, teaching assignments, managerial responsibilities, and lone professional travel finished off my finesse at "refusing to be lonely in a crowd," variously. Amongst other techniques, I became comfortable, profoundly and obviously, with my own company and an unobtrusive observer of environments, situations and others around me. A book or magazine to bury my head in if appropriate also became as de riguer as a purse or briefcase. Starting conversations with an honest, cheery compliment nearly always works and it's good to remember that folks are generally much more interested in themselves than you, at least to begin with. A non-critical fascination with their childhood, marital situation, business or hobby interest can be both enlightening and helpful, especially if minimally but insightfully commented upon. One consequence has been that I've known fairly well quite a lot of people while the reverse has been less often true -- not because I'm secretive but due to a lack of non-threatening and non-aggressive interest in discerning my real personal history, attitudes, opinions and strongly-held beliefs through gently enlightening interaction. And, as one grows older, it all becomes a very long story and a good reason to abide amongst old friends who "knew you when...." and, at least off and on, during.
Over the years, Bob and I became the expected and seemingly unbreakable "perfect couple" -- like finely matched salt and pepper shakers, both somewhat dark-skinned, dark-haired, similar in temperament and outlook, and gracefully romantic public dancers together. He particularly loved a party and those he planned were mostly under his command in design and execution, variously enjoyed and looked forward to in Richmond, Arlington, and the Shenandoah.
One spring Bob and I visited Charlottesville, the University of Virginia and Monticello with their heavy influence of Thomas Jefferson's architecture and historic prominence amidst the making of this nation. With his slaves, Sally Hemmings and mulatto children, that founder and president epitomizes the interior clash between democratic ideals, practical realities, human passions and socio-economic gain and comfort based upon negating abstract principles held dear but unrealized. In some ways Jefferson is the ultimate hypocritical and conflicted Southerner, a genius in many ways -- inventor, politician, author, manager, philosopher, thinker -- as well as a religious and cultured doer of the unthinkable.
The Appalachia of the Mountain Empire, New England and many other parts of the United States of America have a history of independence and "rugged individualism" in their settling and development. The South has a woeful heritage of slavery, cruelty and sadism, autocracy and civil war, secession and lack of allegiance to American ideals and principles. Intrinsic to the region is repression, elitism based on materiality, segregation, bigotry, intolerance, hatred, isolation, inhumanity, and white male supremacy. There is also a prodigious legacy of snubbing its regional nose at federal authority and undermining that with subtle, or not, rebellion and the throwing of all, including children and women, into combat to protect and defend its revolt against equality of all kinds and to maintain its existence as a separate and different entity socio-economically and politically.
In many areas the South clings to a stodgy and staid ruling class based on name not accomplishment or real honor and morality through generations of questionable values and directions. It remains kind of arrogant and disdainful in quite a few places of education and progress, stuck in the mud of its own making, and celebratory of a very violent culture historically with no rules of engagement except between members of the upper class. The rest, driving their pickup trucks emblazoned with "The South will rise again" and waving the Stars and Bars in specious adulation, apparently believe re-emergence of secessionists would really improve the lives of poor whites traditionally oppressed, disregarded, and disparaged there during its ascendancy and reign, culminating in the ephemeral and gory glory of serving as underpaid and underprovisioned soldiers and supporters in a frequently ragtag army of the Confederate States of America from 1861 through 1865. To me, it's the dark side of the moon.
Weekends we usually roamed Richmond restaurants, lounges, and theatres. The historic Shockoe Slip area, low-lying and flood-prone, had been revitalized and one Saturday evening we celebrated with many others on the street the arrival of spring by listening to bands playing, drinking beer out of bottles and cans, and dancing in the streets. There is an old two-tiered stone fountain in between the main bars and cafes. People were "boogying" on both levels, their feet in water and over empty and discarded cans. A celebrant pulled me up from the first tier to the second, and we danced to the stars and the beat of the live music until I slipped on a can and fell abruptly onto my rear end. He lifted me up and I was hoisted down to the sidewalk again, from whence we continued to other points of entrancement.
The next morning, when I rose out of bed, the pain from my backside knocked me out and I fell, fainting, face forward into the wood floor. Every time I tried to stand, the same thing happened. I was sure I was paralyzed from the waist down and contemplated a life of supporting myself by typing papers from my bed. However, when my somewhat hysterical husband got me to a doctor, the physician said, after taking x-rays, that I had simply broken my tailbone, that that was common in childbirth and not at all life threatening, and that it would heal by itself without setting. He prescribed "a donut," a kind of round cushion without a center, for me to sit on for the next few weeks, and that's how I took my six-hour graduate record exams, sitting on a donut and trying to ignore the pain from my tailbone, which to this day does not allow me to sit on hard benches or chairs for any length of time without extreme discomfort.
Toward the end of our stay in that area, I worked as an administrative assistant with a private office in the Criminal Division of the Virginia Attorney General's office. There were few people in the Commonwealth who knew who was being wiretapped for major trafficking in drugs: me, my boss, his boss, his boss, and his boss, most particularly. In other words me, Gil Haith, our Criminal Division, the Attorney General, and the Judge who approved the orders. Then there was the small cadre of enforcement personnel who carried those out. The way all that came about is that Gil -- a substantially-sized, young University of Virginia graduate, married with two small children and living in a restored older home on the hill -- called me into his office one day. Unusually for a jovial and affable man, he looked very serious in explaining his newest responsibility and my prospective part in it. Then he asked if I could handle it: the knowledge, risk and secrecy. Thinking quickly to myself, I answered, "No," out loud and pretty immediately. Gil relaxed, laughed, and said, "Sure you can," proceeding to whatever work was next at hand, usually researching legal precedents and preparing and filing writs of habeas corpus to the Virginia Supreme Court. Gil died about a year later, working nearly up to the end, of a fast-moving and untreatable cancer -- a very bright and good person, fun to be around, taken away too soon from the state and his family.
When my grandmother's hip first fractured, Mom notified me of course and I flew down to Fort Lauderdale for about a week to be with her, and both of them really, before returning to Richmond and work. A few weeks subsequent to the operation, Mom moved her to a nearby hospice and notified me again when she had a stroke there after about two months. I flew down again and was able to be with her one more time before she died. Mother made funeral arrangements, we got through that, and then settled into dividing up my grandmother's personal possessions. Fortunately, we hadn't much conflict over those because mother liked and chose modern, close-to-new ones, and I loved and valued antiques, particularly family heritage ones she disdained somewhat in general. When we did disagree slightly, of course mother's view prevailed. I'd have liked my grandmother's wedding ring, a later gift from my grandfather, which had small diamonds all around, but she didn't mind giving up some other diamond and sapphire jewelry and even some gilded and unusual old china. She kept two of the paintings by Edwin Dawes, a painter whose work mother had loved as I was a child, and I took one back to Richmond along with a few others by other artists that mother didn't care about but were actually at least semi-famous. We split those by my grandmother fairly equally and didn't favor the same ones personally in general so that also evoked no tugs-of-war. I also ended up with a quite a bit of monogrammed linens, most likely because they fell into the category of "antiques" that mother eschewed completely in being "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Having promised my grandmother I'd take good care of whatever she left me and vows to the dead being sacrosanct, I displayed and showed her beautiful possessions, at least where it was safe, and shared their histories and functions over centuries, even keeping most of the silver polished, a job far down on my list of favored activities, but above vacuuming. Everything is above vacuuming, in my experience. I'm pretty sure there are people that don't mind it at all, just like some get a kick out of ironing. But to me, it always seems, although I know this isn't materially so, that the vaccum cleaner is bigger than I am. And intent on obstruction, any variety of noncooperation, and personal harm if not watched very very carefully. That appliance and I just don't interact healthily, naturally. Maybe it's like me and ... the rudite's of the world. There's just a very profound divide there that's so intrinsic and deeply set. If I ever have another one I'm gonna name it after one of them.
After my grandmother's estate was settled legally, I resigned from my two employers, Assistant Attorneys General, to begin attending classes full-time at Virginia Commonwealth University with part of my inheritance to pay tuition, books and expenses. Because I generally love learning and school, it seemed somewhat a wonderful vacation from the workaday world that part of me hoped could continue for the rest of my life, but knew it wouldn't. We did very much enjoy it all though. My husband and I became friends with a couple who lived two houses north of ours. She was a Cobol programmer for the Federal Reserve Bank with a Mathematics degree and an excellent amateur photographer who participated in area shows. His degree was in Business Administration, both received from William and Mary College, and he owned his own motocross supply equipment shop near the campus. I ended up riding to most of my classes on the back of his street bike, and the four of us camped out in a Pennsylvania field during a very well-attended motocross race. When we finally moved, first to a modern one-story rental house with a corner fireplace and semi-circular light brick hearth and later to our own two-story nearby in the D.C. suburbs, they came to visit us in both places and spend a few nights. I finished degree requirements for my Bachelor's in Arlington/Ballston by completing, with the approval of two VCU professors, papers for independent study courses reviewing and analyzing books and theories of Piaget and Chomsky, receiving only a "B" in the latter and thereby not graduating summa cum laude because I got lost in his mental excursions and elaborations on the origins of our linguistic abilities.
At VCU, I settled into my major, Psychology, with obsessive enthusiasm, concentrating on courses from that Department. Surprised to discover fascination with Advanced Algebra, Statistics, Biology and Physiological Psychology, I chose with permission to design an independent study course on the effects of Serotonin uptake and inhibitors on brain functions. A course in the foreign derivations of medical and scientific terminology demystified intimidating words and phrases coined by professionals in various fields. Another course in Healthy Personality, utilizing The Joy of Sex and Our Bodies, Our Selves, among others, as texts, liberated me from some old, learned stereotypes and behaviors in empowering and enjoyable ways. In Philosophy of Psychology we read The Mote In God's Eye, which led me to an interest in science fiction and extraterrestrials. Elective courses in Religions of the World and History of Art broadened my understanding of historical and extant trends in spirituality and their cultural expression. Clinical studies and field work in Abnormal Psychology introduced me to the many variations and exploratory treatments of aberrant behaviors through theories of, particularly, Freud, Maslowe and Jung. Self-directed courses in Piaget and Chomsky taught me about actualities and analyses of mental, conceptual development. Although I passed with As two required computer programming (Basic and Pascal) courses, including use of the University's mainframes, I didn't particularly like the subject area of what later became my profession, and passion. During the introductory Basic class, our professor asked a question and no one dared any answer. Disliking a vacuum, I raised my hand and, when chosen, offered what was in my mind. The professor responded, pointing to me, "Exactly right!" and I was so astonished, I lost my balance and fell out of my chair.
For two semesters I did fieldwork as an assistant at Monroe Clinic under the supervision of a certified occupational therapist, a woman with a masters degree in that field who was less than impressed with some psychological theories and therapies, redirecting my mind toward more concrete activities. Most of the time I provided individual tutoring for the pre-pubescent children with different learning and cognitive disabilities, mostly autism, ADHD and dyslexia, by intensive playing of popular, at-heart educational, games involving numbers, shapes and colors as well, of course, as cooperative understanding and enactment of their rules, and with cogent conversation. Once, we were sent to a public school classroom to work with a group of maybe nine hyperactive young students. Keeping that many interested and involved instead of running around and climbing walls was very challenging and we were both totally exhausted and relieved at the end of the exercise.
In those days, children and adults were seldom, maybe never, medicated to relieve symptoms, but tracked instead into therapeutic situations for amelioration and restructuring of their brain and behavioral dysfunctions. That required educated, dedicated and energetic personnel trained in therapeutic fields rather than reliance on medical physicians and drug companies, as is common now, to create adult citizens capable of living and working independently and effectively for their own benefit and that of society and business in general. The current drugging of children and adults into numb, basically confused and/or mindlessly compliant students and citizens does not, to my mind, work in the best interests of democracy, populace or civilization. Even "street drugs," most common perhaps amongst underserved populations and inner cities, redirect attention and activities from political awareness and action that might effect and disarray enforcing structures. They feed instead a "drug war" industry of police, deputies, sheriffs, captains, investigators, agents, lawyers, guards, jailers, counselors and probation officers -- in addition to construction of jails, prisons, halfway houses, weaponry and bullets, uniforms, cars, vans, planes, boats, machines, computers, bondage instruments, and paperwork -- who in some well-documented and publicly exposed cases partake of the very substances they are paid to control and which may lead to over-aggressiveness, in the process perhaps of calming nerves.
Altogether, it was an excellent, enlightening and impressive educational experience with outstanding professors who insisted upon expanding minds through knowledge, clear expression, and hard work to succeed in their courses of study. At that time, the cost was an easily affordable $135 per semester and used books, as ever, were available at much-reduced prices from the University Book Store. We were sent upon graduation out into the world, particularly women, armed with mental might, exercised and proven learning and teaching techniques, and inspired determination to serve the light in the process of making the planet and country a better place, in concert and one person, one step at a time. Being in the vanguard as showcases for spreading egalitarian feminist professionalism and opportunity, we would demonstrate our equality of abilities and the truth of our ideals through dedicated effort and "true grit" in the face of obstacles and impediments, interior and exterior. We would break down barriers, crash through "the glass ceiling," and forge a freer and easier path for generations of daughters, and their lovingly hopeful fathers, which we did do, demonstrably, until forces of hate-full and sometimes lethal reaction from both genders overtook the nation and world, much to our dismay and its impoverishment.
The talents, skills and education of women comprise half the people resources of the United States and other countries. Ignoring, dismissing, denigrating, distorting and destroying them disturbs and unravels the fabric of humanity and progress, greatly constricting and cramping the experiences and aptitudes of half the earth's children. Females, young to old, are a vitally necessary, integral birthing and nurturing fifty percent of God's lifeform creation. The dialectic theory of change postulates that civilizations move forward through evolution and revolution and then retrench, as challenged, frightened and threatened minds comfortable and habituated to traditional ways prevail for awhile, while everyone contemplates, reevaluates and, in some cases, rethinks the new direction.
A fairly good and typical example of that is the Internet Revolution. Initially greeted with general hostility and incomprehension, ubiquitous cyberspace is now crowded to overwhelmed by populace in every day experience, which accepts its myriad offerings, possibilities and pitfalls, as enjoyable to unavoidable. The less than stellar performance sometimes of some men involved in my later cyberworld adventures and escapades has been egged on by the, in a few cases psychotic, treachery and perfidy of some repressed and unactualized, jealous and jaded women, "southern belles." A few years ago, while watching "Gone With the Wind" together on her home VCR, my mother commented, as her nanny elegantly stayed and dressed Scarlet for a ball, "Those were the days, weren't they?" Mumbling out loud, I thought to myself, "Yes, if you happened to be among the top one-half of one percent economically and socially of white people then, in a world dominated pretty exclusively in every way by men."
In 1970, Bob had found work finally, after a few months of unemployment and inappropriate interim jobs, as a statistician and then intermediate Research & Development manager for Philip Morris testing consumer responses to extant and proposed cigarette medlies of ingredients besides tobacco and assorted filter constructs. During a repeat hiatus that involved a month or so of bruises and blues working nights on a UPS loading dock after college graduation in the low B's overall, the National Automobile Dealers Association in metro Virginia's Tyson's Corner hired him, again as a statistician and later -- on his application and concertedly designed and executed lobbying effort -- as manager of a department there providing R&D documents and seminars for car dealers nationwide at various luxurious resorts inland and off our coasts. His secretary, divorced and in debt from her ex-husband, found the prospect of a handsome husband, a well-paid professional, appealing and my out-of-town programmer/analyst/manager sojourns of days and weeks an opportune time for stroking and stoking the fires of vagrancy and vanity. Succumbing unknown in his real strengths and weaknesses, Bob accepted, after our separation, a generous stipend and title from a Harrisburg PA auto dealer, who bought his apparent expertise although Bob had never come anywhere close to running such an operation anywhere and his lectures were all theory from a business he'd not studied acdemically nevermind supervised in reality, nor profoundly cared much about. A year or so later he was fired for ineptitude and lack of acceptable performance, which might have been predicted by someone who knew him well and wasn't catering to his ego and their own piggishness. His professional demise thereafter was pockmarked with bouts of joblessness, excessive alcohol, drunken driving convictions, and other public displays of errant self-control which ended in a continuing relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous and employment not of his real self's choosing. His daughter and only child, though, is in college and doing very well, variously. On parting in 1984, over a meal shared in an upscale Roslyn restaurant, he said to get in touch with him if I ever needed help. Decades later, after he'd contacted me initially, on my recounting of Shenandoah Valley crimes against me and my property, he advised as comfort and solace that I think about what I might have done wrong to deserve all that. I reminded him that he has a daughter and that female victims are not responsible for harms inflicted upon them despite their protests and pleas and against the law, that she needed and would continue to need his cognizant understanding and support in a sometimes hostile and violent world that women and girls too frequently, and most particularly over the past ten years of "white male suprecist" suicidal idiocy, encounter and experience in their everyday lives around the world, as well as here in this country.
I'm sorry about Bob's fall from the days where he saw and knew the wrongfulness of our ever-escalated and increasingly futile undeclared war in Vietnam -- ultimately declared a victory as we plucked survivors off rooftops and it fell to the Viet Cong -- and the need for different attitudes and alternatives in lifestyle, work, relationships, and communal caring. He lives and works in what he used to mock and taunt. We called it back then "being co-opted by the Establishment," but he probably forgets or forgot in the haze and daze of other exigencies and happenings. An ethical, intelligent and activated radical gone soft and lost amidst fantasy and harsh realities. At that turning point though, years earlier, I was most miffed, audibly, simply that he would do something as common, trite and tasteless as "have an affair with his secretary." There just isn't an interesting or unique story there, and he never mentions her now, to me anyway, although she was quite a voluable obsession once. He also never thanked me for anything -- the many furnishings I shared or my money that helped us variously, including him to complete his degree, nevermind my intelligent and lovingly aware work and help on his behalf and ours. The invisible woman -- unacknowledged and discredited -- who can't be heard but whose caring presence, or lack of it, makes all the different in a world of generally inferior and frequently inane, insane and immoral "modern" and "post-modern" men, cockeyed in their swaggeringly unsentient self-assurance beside wanton "helpmates" encouraging them in the felicitous-seeming fallacy that they've been given divinely-ordained sole and higher dominion. It's very sad in all its consequences now before us at every hand to be dealt with as those still alive are able and can.
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